Mitsubishi tells dealers it's staying in U.S.
ORLANDO -- Mitsubishi Motors North America executives told a standing-room-only make meeting that the Japanese brand is committed to the United States and will double its marketing budget this year.
"From June and July, we're going to push really hard," said Roger Yasukawa, a Mitsubishi spokesman.
The marketing spike will coincide with the arrival of the 2014 Outlander, which will have a more upscale look and a better interior, he said. "We're going to be on prime-time TV, and we'll plan to have the highest spend in digital."
It will be Mitsubishi's first prime-time network TV advertising since 2005, Yasukawa said. He declined to say how much Mitsubishi would spend.
Dealers are cautiously optimistic that the move signals Mitsubishi is in the United States for the long haul and won't go the way of Suzuki, which last year put its U.S. subsidiary into Chapter 11 reorganization to end U.S. auto sales. But Mitsubishi dealers want to see more concrete product plans, and Mitsubishi officials didn't offer any last week.
Dealers looking to hear more news about plans to replace vehicles terminated last year got little reassurance.
"For the most part dealers and the industry need to know Mitsubishi has found bottom," said R.C. Hill, owner of R.C. Hill Mitsubishi in Deland, Fla. "They're going to make a comeback. We're going to see product, but no clear plans."
In 2012 Mitsubishi U.S. sales dropped 27 percent to 57,790 in an overall market that grew 13 percent. Mitsubishi's lineup shrunk with the cancellation of the Galant sedan, Endeavor crossover, Eclipse coupe and Spyder convertible.
Hill said dealers were encouraged that the new chairman of Mitsubishi Motors North America, Gayu Uesugi, appeared at the meeting. Dealers were encouraged that Uesugi comes from a product planning background.
He gave a short speech to dealers, reassuring them Mitsubishi has no plans to leave the country.
"I think that discussion needs to stop about Mitsubishi leaving the country," said Hill. "It is absolutely not."
But Hill said dealers definitely need more product.
"We need a mid-sized sedan and we need a full-sized SUV," said Hill.
Mitsubishi's Yasukawa said the brand will build its comeback strategy on two pillars: SUVs and sedans. After the Outlander crossover, a yet-to-be-named subcompact arrives this year. But Mitsubishi did not offer specifics about when or whether the Galant would be replaced. And the company said nothing about a full-sized SUV.
Hill said dealers were encouraged that Mitsubishi retooled its Normal, Ill., factory for production of the Outlander Sport and the Outlander.
Mitsubishi dealers have had their sales decline even as the U.S. industry is enjoying a resurgence. Said Hill: "On this comeback, we feel like we want to be part of it."
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